UWS Professor Uses Common Fish in Cancer Research

Updated: February 12, 2018 07:12 PM

At Barstow Hall at UWS, Doctor Jenean O'Brien and her students are taking their research under water.

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"This is where the Zebrafish eat sleep, swim, and play," said O'Brien showing the University's Zebrafish Culture Room.

The tiny species of Zebrafish play a big role in what they are trying to do. Their genes have a similar genetic make up to humans and they're hoping to see what role two genes play in a rare children's muscle cancer called, Rhabdomyosarcoma.

"We think one of them (the genes) helps promote the tumors and we think the other gene is potentially protecting the cells from becoming tumor cells," said O'Brien.

Their experiments involve manipulating the gene sequences in the fish by injecting the embryos. 

"We manipulate the Zebrafish genes so they either grow tumors or we're manipulating these two genes that we are interested in in those embryos to see what effect it has on the tumors," O'Brien added."Some of the first things we're looking for when we manipulate the genes are changes in some of the muscle shapes."

After the embryos are injected using an injector system, they're placed into an incubator and as they grow over time they are transferred into different sized tanks, where they are studied a little further.

At different stages in the fish's life, they are observed under a florescent green light, where they can look for green tumors or any changes in muscle shapes and cells where they shouldn't be.

The experiments will help answer questions like when the tumors happen and the spread of them, and even help in patients who have other types of cancers.

"RMS is rather rare but the gene family is up regulated or more active in at least ten other types of cancer including Breast Cancer, Lung Cancer and Colon Cancer so some much more prevalent cancers," said O'Brien.

For students, providing career opportunities is what she hopes for.

"Im always telling my students one of the best ways to figure out what you want to do is to try it," said O'Brien.

"It's a lot of learning with science," said Kim Kobar, a UWS student on the research team."We learn that things don't always work."

Wyatt Sorel is an aspiring Pharmacist. He says he knows the work they are doing will help in his future.

"Cancer is becoming very prevalent more and more it seems each year so it helps to understand some mechanism into how they (the genes) work and different treatments," said Sorel.

He also hopes this research can provide hope for others.

"I'm hoping that my future career being a pharmacist, I'll be able to help patients that have cancer and to be able to share with them a little bit of hope that there are people researching this," Sorel said.

The University got a grant in September so that will fund this research for the next three years.

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